Sigvaris Affirmed

This is far less interesting than the life and death fight over the vaquita, but nevertheless an interesting illustration of how tariff language is to be interpreted.

You may recall Sigvaris, the classification case involving graduated compression hosiery. These items exert 15 to 20 mmHg of compression on the wearer to force pooled blood to circulate out of the leg and throughout the body. Customs and Border Protection classified these products as graduated compression hosiery in Heading 6115, subject to a 14.6%rate of duty. Plaintiff protested, claiming that they should qualify for duty-free treatment as articles specially designed or adapted for the use or benefit of the physically handicapped in Heading 9817. These articles are duty-free. Customs denied the protests and the U.S. Court of International Trade agreed with Customs. The basic rationale for that decision was that these products are designed to help patients with early stage conditions that do not yet interfere with getting around and basic daily tasks.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has affirmed that decision.

Although reaching the same result, the Federal Circuit took a different approach in the analysis. It found that the relevant inquiry is not, as the CIT had done, about the condition for which the merchandise is allegedly designed. Rather, it is about the persons for whom the merchandise may have been designed. According to the Court, merchandise entitled to duty-free entry must be "specially designed" for "persons" with a given limitation, not specially designed to address the symptoms of a specific disorder that may afflict a person.

Looking at it from this angle, the Federal Circuit held that to qualify for duty-free entry, the merchandise must be designed for the use or benefit of a class of person who has a physical limitation to an extent greater than it is designed for other persons. Evidence of this would include the physical properties of the merchandise, whether the merchandise is solely used by the handicapped, the specific design of the merchandise, the likelihood it is useful to the general public, and whether the merchandise is sold in specialty stores.

Given the facts found by the CIT, the Federal Circuit was able to conclude that the merchandise was not specially designed for the use or benefit of a specific class of persons at all. Consequently, it did  not need to reach the question of whether that class of persons also happens to be handicapped.


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